Let’s take a closer look at where things started; from an evolutionary stand point our appetite naturally gravitated towards sweet, salty & fatty foods because they are high-energy foods that we needed for survival. However times have changed and most individuals require lower amounts of energy (as compared to our ancestors), but our dietary intake has definitely not come down and in fact it has only increased (thanks to the influx of processed foods).
What’s worse is that most processed foods are incredibly ‘rewarding’ to the brain, which leads to continued consumption of refined foods over time. It’s important to mention that while these foods maybe convenient, they are big sources of added sugar (like high fructose corn syrup) and preservatives that are the main drivers of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and elevated cholesterol.
Let me give you an example for some context; a very popular mango based beverage was promoted as a fruit drink that was safe for children to consume. I assume that most parents weren’t aware of the fact that it contains 13.5 gms of added sugar/100mL in addition to synthetic colour & flavouring. What makes it even worse is that the smallest serving is 200mL, which translates to a whopping 29 gm of sugar when you include the natural sugar found in the fruit itself. To understand proportions; 1 teaspoon of sugar = 4gms of sugar, so essentially 1 tetra pack of this mango juice contains 8 tsps of added sugar!
This may seem like an extreme & rather obvious example, but the truth is that there is a real lack of awareness on what is present in these seemingly convenient processed foods and the effect it has on our health. The reality is that the food we eat impacts our mood, sleep, immunity, hormones, cognitive health, emotional wellbeing, and metabolic health (to name a few).
“You are what you eat. What would YOU like to be?”
This quote by Julie Murphy really helped me put things into perspective. But then the question arises, ‘why are so many of us choosing foods that are detrimental to our wellbeing?’ I imagine that it tends to happen because the concept of healthy eating has evolved so dramatically as it is trying to keep up with globalisation & convenience. Which translates to supermarkets being flooded with foods masquerading to be healthy like flavoured yogurt, frozen low cal meals, flavoured instant oatmeal, low-fat mayonnaise, Coke zero, fat free dressing, breakfast cereals etc.
Another commonly made mistake is to ignore the information present on nutrition labels and to rely on the health claims or catchy tag-lines found on the packaging. Many of us consume biscuits without realising that most biscuits are highly processed & unhealthy as they are made with refined wheat flour (maida), contain saturated fats, preservatives, salt & sugar. (If you look at the ingredient list on the packaging of Britannia Nutri Choice TM 5 Grain Biscuits & Digestive Biscuits you will see that it contains refined wheat flour, sugar, liquid glucose & emulsifiers amongst others). They might claim to contain various other grains but the major contributor is almost always refined wheat flour unless mentioned otherwise. Even McVities (R) Wholewheat Marie contains only 10.9% of wholewheat flour and 50.9% wheat flour (taken from the nutritional label).
As a practising nutritionist I’ve realised that there are so many Indians that want to lead healthier lives, but are unsuccessful as they are unable to apply the concepts of Western Diets (Atkins, South Beach Diet, Keto Diet etc) into everyday life. And this eventually leads to us steering away from the foods that we traditional ate and opting for convenient foods or even worse, choosing foods that we think are healthy.
Another unfortunate reality is that many medical/health professionals don’t give enough importance to dietary intervention with regards to disease prevention & symptom reduction of lifestyle diseases. Instead they offer allopathic recommendations that seem to yield results with minimum effort. Tempting indeed since no one tells you about the side effects associated with these drugs! Did you know that a common side effect of statin usage (drugs used to lower cholesterol) is muscle pain, muscle weakness & even damage?
Like everything in life, nutrition requires commitment and effort. I constantly meet individuals that complain about how they don’t have the time to cook for themselves and hence are looking for more convenient options. The sad truth is that most things that come from a box have undergone a certain amount of preservation & refining that we may not always be aware of. Another often-overlooked fact is that food labels & health claims can be somewhat misleading. In which case it is the consumer’s responsibility to start paying attention to their dietary preferences and to choose wisely! Especially because the information that you require to decide whether a product is good for you is clearly indicated on the packaging.